Germaphobic Gastronomy

Christa Conklin
Written by Christa Conklin

The Garden State is infiltrating my meals with its delicious bounty. I’ve devoured multiple bunches of asparagus. Our local organic farm opened its market. The kids and I hit the country lane for fresh strawberries and greens. Our neighbor gave us a free pass to pick their peas at our community garden. Oh, glorious season!

I was so happy, rinsing my spinach, and chatting with my husband.

“Are you going to use the veggie wash on that?”

I hadn’t been. This food is local and organic. I was rinsing each and every leaf thoroughly. The amount of fresh produce in my house was fabulous and overwhelming. My diligence had taken a backseat to my desire to just eat it already.

“Well, I, uh, don’t always use it on the leafy greens. Ooh, I didn’t use it on the strawberries, either.”

We’d eaten about five quarts in as many days.

“Birds could have pooped on it,” he said. “Guys harvested it with their diarrhea hands. You know fresh produce is the number one source of food poisoning.”

Of course, I did. That’s my food prep chant. Every restaurant salad I dare to eat slides down with a little prayer. I sat on a non-profit board of directors way back when, and missed a big hotel function. At the next meeting, I found out everyone had gotten terribly sick. The culprit? The salad.

Flashback to the port-o-potty at the farm. Was there hand sanitizer? Was it used? I said hello to some of the harvesters as we were leaving. One guy’s eyes definitely said, “You better wash those veggies. I was in the bathroom all night.”

Panic and nausea attacked. I activated the spray-wash-salad-spinner-soak-and-rinse. Thankfully, we survived my temporary lack of attentiveness.

As of that conversation, my beds of lettuce could be used in operating rooms.

I love restaurant dining. I’m particular about where I eat, knowing food-born illness is not exclusive to the fast food and hotel industries. At the very least, I try to eat where I feel confident the kitchen staff is not wiping my bread on the bottom of their shoes before plating my meal.

I am surrounded by folks who love the potluck. I dread the potluck. Too many hands. Too many kitchens. At one of these events, I was guarding the table, carefully observing delivery, to determine upon which pot I might try my luck.

The organizer was thanking a woman for taking the time to cook and deliver her food while everyone in her family was sick. She spoke from the heart. Yes, it was nice of her to keep her promise in the midst of dealing with a house full of sick people. But, what?! She just delivered disease in a slow cooker.

I’ve witnessed kitchen habits that make me squirm. Veggies peeled over the garbage, the person knocking the peeler on the side of the can, the vegetable curiously close to the top of the garbage heap. Salads being chopped directly on the wood table in a communal kitchen. A spatula being knocked from the drying rack in that same kitchen, picked up from the floor, and put back into the drying rack. I don’t think a cleanser exists that can remove what has soaked into that tabletop over the years. And in my home, that utensil would be in the sink. We don’t have pets, and we don’t wear shoes inside, but I don’t cook with, or eat off of floor utensils.

Communal bowls of snacks? No way. Family-style buffets? You jest. My friend, who continues to enjoy the restaurant breakfast buffet scene told me about the time a child puked into one of the chafing dishes. My self-serve nightmares are filled with such horrors, I never thought someone I knew would witness one come to life.

My son loves to tease me about a class titled “Kids Play With Food.” Fifteen 3-5 year olds rubbing their noses, sucking thumbs, and touching shoes while making a snack. Yum.

I believe I’ve made my point. I think a lot about things that others don’t even consider. I’ve heard, “I’d never have thought about that,” many times. I realize it’s not a compliment, but that’s okay. Most folks get this about me, accept it, and even help me. If I’m distracted and a friend sees my child about to share someone’s food, they swoop in on my behalf, even if they would not have done it to their own kid.

Thankfully, I’m surrounded by good friends. I’ve either found my people, or I am affecting them, since many of them think like me. A scary crowd, I know. But, for me, I’ve found my lucky Crock-Pots.



About the author

Christa Conklin

Christa Conklin

Christa Conklin is the home educator of her two children. She received her Bachelor's Degree from Rutgers College and her Master's Degree from Monmouth University. She studied in France, and once took first place in a solo women's kayak river race.

Christa worked for five years in the education department of the New York Philharmonic and another five years for Young Audiences New Jersey. She brought professional artists to schools to work with students and educators, and often joined teachers and students in theaters and studios for them to experience the arts as creators and audience members.

Christa studied dance and received a degree in music performance. She keeps these passions alive through her own practice and teaching others. Always an avid reader, and having worked with artists in all genres, including writing, she feels blessed to have found her voice as an author.